Pioneer has been deeply involved with audio equipment for decades and it continues to feel the pressure from big competitors. But that isn’t stopping the Japanese-giant from making top-of-the-line products that consumers really praise. When it comes to DJ equipment and speaker systems, Pioneer remains a top brand choice for professionals. But the living room is a different story as it is less of a niche market and there are plenty of good brands to choose from. Buying a sound bar, for instance, will involve a lot of tough decisions but Pioneer is looking to plow though that category as well with the Pioneer SP-SB23W.
Pioneer doesn’t really focus so much on fancy designs like other companies so fans of Pioneer products should be happy with the black and somewhat traditional look of the SP-SB23W. The composite wood curved cabinet is sure to match other Pioneer products and traditional home theater components. However, there are a handful of sound bars that look more attractive simply because they are thinner and sleeker. The height of the sound bar is 4 inches so you might run into a problem where the sound bar blocks the TV’s remote sensor and it lacks support for an IR repeater. Pioneer didn’t even bother giving the Pioneer SP-SB23W its own display so you won’t be able to tell if you are changing a setting through the remote control. All you have access to is a couple of essential buttons along with some small light indicators for the mode and Bluetooth status.
There are very few input ports found on the back of the SP-SB23W. Aside from the essential power port, all that is available is the analog and optical inputs. While similarly-priced sound bars feature some attractive extras like HDMI and USB ports, the simplicity of the Pioneer SP-SB23W shouldn’t really bother the majority as most LCD, LED and plasma TVs feature multiple HDMI inputs and a USB port or two. Connecting the audio output of the TV to the sound bar means that any components connected to the TV get the benefits and you can still use your TV remote to switch inputs.
The sound bar’s remote is very simple and easy to understand but the button layout is jumbled requiring you to really look at the buttons to make sure you are adjusting the correct control. Perhaps the best designed component of the entire SP-SB23W package is the subwoofer. The design of the subwoofer is bland but it is very compact with none of the dimensions exceeding 10 inches.
Despite the lack of inputs, the Pioneer SP-SB23W does feature built-in Bluetooth so just about any mobile device with Bluetooth functionality can join the wireless audio streaming party. Bluetooth may not sound like a big deal and several modern sound bars still lack Bluetooth but smartphones and tablets can really make the most out of the Bluetooth since popular apps like Spotify and Pandora can wirelessly stream music to the sound bar.
While the remote control takes some getting used to, setting up the sound bar is extremely simple. There are few inputs to worry about and linking the speaker unit and the wireless subwoofer is as simple as pressing the sync button found on both devices. As long as the subwoofer is within range (recommended 5 feet or less), the components should be linked.
Pioneer products were always about raw performance and the SP-SB23W continues that trend as it features some killer specs. The 6 28-watt amplifiers power 4 3-inch mid-woofers and a pair of 1-inch soft dome tweeters. This means that the Pioneer SP-SB23W isn’t exactly the loudest sound bar but it is definitely one of the clearest as it produces very natural sounds whether you are playing music or watching movies. The 6.5-inch driver featured in the compact subwoofer is the best part as it surprisingly delivers far better bass than competing sound bars in the price range. To sum it all up, the overall audio quality is excellent. Because of the limitations of Bluetooth, you could expect lower quality sound outputs when wirelessly streaming audio but the SP-SB23W supports the aptX codec, which means that any mobile devices that also support this codec can wirelessly stream audio without the quality penalties.
Another interesting thing about the Pioneer SP-SB23W is its lack of virtual surround sound processing so movie lovers might give this sound bar a pass. But those individuals would probably invest in a true surround sound speaker system anyway since virtual surround sound has its shortcomings. The SP-SB23W sticks to what it does best and that is in stereo sound.
There are some modes that you can try out that apply minor augments to the audio quality. The usual “Music” and “Movie” modes exist and work as they should. There is also a special “Dialogue” mode that actually does nothing but turn off the subwoofer just to make the vocals clearer. It would have been nice though if there was a way to manually adjust the bass or treble.
The excellent audio quality of the SP-SB23W really turns those design and connectivity complaints into very minor issues. There could be a reason to consider a competing product if you really need something sleeker or perhaps a sound bar made by the same company as your current TV but you’d be hard-pressed to find something that sounds this good for just $399. Because of this low price, the Pioneer SP-SB23W is easily the best performing midrange sound bar.
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